There’s no doubt that marketing has a huge effect on our diet and the way we view food. Companies are prone to making one food or nutrient seem really bad for you or really good for you when the reality is quite different.
We’re halfway through the year, which means it’s not too late to change your eating habits and reach your 2017 health goals. So here are some common food myths we’re being sold and why you should forget them in order to understand health more holistically:
1. Activated charcoal is detoxifying
I’ve seen activated charcoal lemonade a couple of years ago, but the charcoal trend has been taken to a new extreme recently. It is now charcoal everything, from charcoal ice cream to charcoal coffee. This ingredient appears to be detoxifying as well as aesthetically interesting.
But is it all that healthy?
Claims are that the activated charcoal binds to toxins and prevents your body from absorbing them. The charcoal typically comes from burnt coconut shells or wood and is “activated” by exposing it to specific gases. This leads it to have a negative charge and allows it to easily bind to positive charges in our bodies. Physicians have actually been used in the ER for overdose/toxin cases.
So, sounds like it would be a good thing to consume regularly?
The problem comes in when you are taking drugs, whether it be ibuprofen or birth control. The charcoal binds to them and causes them to lose their effectiveness. Even if you are not taking anything, including charcoal in your diet has not been proven to have any health benefits since it simply binds to things in your stomach and small intestine, not really where the “toxins” are. So while it may not be harmful per se, it might be better to avoid it.
2. Coconut oil is healthier than butter
There’s been a ton of buzz lately about coconut oil being worse than butter this past week after this literature review was released. This comes as a great shock after years of being told that coconut oil is healthy though this isn’t really anything new. You should know that the reason coconut oil (like butter and animal fat) is solid at room temperature is that it is highly saturated. Saturated fats are the “bad” ones to avoid since they can cause cholesterol buildup in your arteries, which may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease (though there are not yet studies examining the direct relationship between coconut oil consumption and CVD risk).
Your takeaway from all this “coconut oil is not actually good for you” hype is not to vilify it, but to treat the oil like you would butter and eat it in moderation instead of dumping spoonfuls in your recipes.
It’s recommended to substitute these fats and oils with more highly unsaturated oils (less saturated, which is what makes them liquid at room temperature). These oils include olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil.
3. Going gluten-free is good for you
Unless you’re part of the 1% of the population who has celiac disease, a gluten-free diet might not make you healthier as we often believe. In fact, it may cause more harm if you’re not knowledgeable on what “gluten-free” really means.
Cutting out whole grains means cutting out fiber and important vitamins and nutrients, which, unless you are replacing them properly, may have negative effects. Gluten-free products also tend to be made with refined grains and are low in nutrients. But when you see cookies marketed as “gluten-free,” it makes it seem healthier than eating regular cookies, which means less guilt on your end. The real reason people tend to feel better and lose weight is not that they cut out gluten, which seems to have no effect in that regard, but because they cut out the sugary sweets from their diet, too.
So I’m sorry to say there’s no way around the fact that stuffing your face with cookies is bad for you. If you really want a healthy diet, cut out the bad gluten (or eat it in moderation) and allow yourself the healthy kind.
4. A raw food diet is more nutritious than cooked food
The raw food diet is basically what it sounds like: you only eat your food organic and uncooked, or “raw.” This comes out of the assumption that cooking your food makes it lose its nutrients, and so eating it uncooked is better for you. However, this assumption is not entirely true.
For some foods (ex: tomatoes), cooking actually breaks apart fibers, which allows you access to more nutrients. The other assumption is that cooking destroys the enzymes in these foods. While that is true, plant enzymes aren’t known to play that big of a role in our body anyway.
Other problems associated with this diet are nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, iron, and calcium, and potentially too low of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. You also risk food poisoning since cooking often makes your food, eggs, and meat, safer to eat. It may be better to just incorporate more raw fruits and veggies in your diet than following a full-on raw diet, which can also be pricey and difficult to maintain.
5. Tea detoxes are a healthy way of losing weight
Firstly, the idea of a cure-all weight loss solution (we all know “detox” in this situation is a euphemism for “thinning”) is in itself unhealthy. This is reminiscent of those weight loss pills we now know are bad for us, but packaged in the comforting idea of a tea. The fact that celebrities use it adds to the glamor. Aside from that though, it is physically unhealthy for you as well.
Most of these teas contain senna, a known laxative often used to treat patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Like any laxative, it can abdominal pain, nausea, gas, bloating along with all that diarrhea. Prolonged use may also mess up your digestive system and make you dependent on the laxative, and cause potassium depletion and abnormal electrolyte levels. This is not to mention the increased caffeine levels that may make you lose sleep and possibly gain weight.
The weight lost from these teas is really just water weight from the diuretics and laxatives. Several celebrities who advertise it also say to exercise and eat healthy along with it so you know they’re really not doing much health-wise.
Noticing a pattern with these health trends? Be wary when you see words like detoxifying and [insert food here]-free. Foods are neither all good super-treatments nor bad villains causing your body harm. It’s a good marketing strategy to treat them as such. Be conscious of that and make sure to follow a key rule my mother, a dietician, has taught me growing up: everything in moderation.